Posts Tagged “Baltimore”

Director Robert Geary and Volti

One of the most exciting areas for new music in recent years has been in the field of choral music. In the next two weeks, two choirs devoted to new music—one a veteran organization, the other an exciting, young rookie—will be presenting important programs of new choral works in both coasts.

The rookie is Baltimore’s Anima Nova Chamber Choir, which will present a concert of works by Eric Whitacre, Tarik O’Regan, Michael Rickelston, Sean Doyle, and Anima Nova founder and director, Jake Runestad. The concert, at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 8 at St. Ignatius Church, 740 North Calvert Street in Baltimore, will benefit the Peabody Preparatory’s “Jr. Bach” scholarship, which provides opportunities for underprivileged students to attend the Peabody Prep.

The veteran ensemble is San Francisco’s Volti, which for the past 32 years has been at the vanguard of new choral music in the United States under the direction of its founder, Robert Geary. Their season finale will be presented three times (Friday, May 13 at 8:00 p.m. at the Berkley City Club; Saturday, May 14 at 8:00 p.m. at First Lutheran Church in Palo Alto; and Sunday, May 15 at 4:00 p.m. at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio) and features works commissioned by Volti, two of which, Matthew Barnson’s Genesis and Elliot Gyger’s voice (and nothing more), are world premieres.

Barnson composed his Genesis, a re-interpretation of the biblical story of creation through poetry, at Volti’s Choral Arts Laboratory, its annual commissioning and residency program where composers under 35 work with Volti’s singers, Artistic Director Robert Geary and Composer in Residence Mark Winges to create a new work for choir in a workshop setting, culminating in its premiere at the end of a given season. Barnson describes Genesis as “three tableaux that are independent of one another but dependent upon the Book of Genesis to give them meaning. Each is a subversive exegesis upon the original story of creation and posits a slight, but vital alternative in the narrative, affecting the outcome of the myth in ways that are sometimes insignificant (but poignant) and sometimes darkly different. Each of the poets whose work I set refracted my original intentions. For instance, the outer movements of the triptych actually retell stories from the book of Genesis. In the second, middle movement I set Richard Siken, a poet whose ecstatic and anxious book, Crush is replete with Biblical images. Beyond the images of apples (knowledge but death) is the feature that the last two poems share: death deferred.”

Elliot Gyger’s voice (and nothing more) reflects the composer’s interest in “language and communication in their own right.” The original germ for what would become voice (and nothing more) was planted ten years ago, when Gyger was a graduate student at Harvard University, where he heard a lecture by musicologist Mauro Calcagno. “Occasionally as a composer,” one encounters by chance a piece of text (or other extra-musical stimulus) for which one may have no immediate use, but which makes such a strong impact that one files it away for future reference. Among the many fascinating sources which Calcagno discussed was a passionate diatribe on the transience of the voice from Emanuele Tesauro’s La metafisica del niente (The Metaphysics of Nothing). Read the rest of this entry »

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Composer Oscar Bettison sent along this report about student opera performances in Baltimore, Maryland.

Opera Etudes at Peabody

Opera Etudes

Opera Etudes at Peabody

Every other year at Peabody, the month of May means one thing for the composition and opera departments: ‘Opera Etudes.’ This project, which has been running for twenty-five years under the guidance of the Director of Opera Programs Roger Brunyate, is a year-long collaboration between graduate composition students and the opera department. Starting in the fall, composers are paired with librettists and singers to work on the creation of short staged opera scenes. These are then fully staged in Friedberg Hall, the main concert hall at Peabody, as one of the final events of the academic year. Occasionally, time pressures take their toll and some collaborations fall apart before making it to the final stage, but this year all seven projects made it from inception to the stage at Friedberg. As could be expected they were a varied bunch, running the gamut from retelling of fairytales (Jake Runestad) to tense family drama (Emily Koh), from comic opera (Josh Bornstein, Jon Carter, Zhangyi Chen) to darker subjects involving infidelity and murder (Jeff Zeiders, Daniel Gil-Marca).

The purpose of this project is to teach composers how to work with others and to provide them with the tools to create healthy collaborations. So often composers get caught up in the nitty-gritty of pitches and rhythm, failing to see the ramifications of the decisions they make in the real world of performance. The Etudes project is set to address this and to perhaps set in motion new opera collaborations in the future. All of the composers seemed to gain a great deal of experience from the process. In the first place, how often do student composers get to have other musicians spend a year learning and memorizing their work? More fundamentally, in working with all these different elements – librettists, singers and directors – composers start to see how to think in different dimensions as well as how to collaborate; both of which should stand them in good stead for the future.

The commitment from the opera department is crucial. These are always fully committed performances. The singers have, of course memorized the music, but they approach this project in the same way as they would any opera in the repertory and this is fundamentally what is so satisfying about the exercise.  Finally, the environment in which the scenes are presented – a packed house in the main concert hall – really makes this feel like an event. I know from personal observation that many music schools round out the year with a big production: but how many do this featuring the music of their own students?

Ultimately all of this bodes well for the future. In years past some of the most successful projects have lead to bigger operas, again put on by the opera department. I wonder how many of this year’s works will lead to new opera productions both at Peabody and elsewhere?

Composer Oscar Bettison teaches at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. His music is published by Boosey and Hawkes.

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